By Seerat Arora 27 May 2021 7 min read

From Pilot to Vaccinator After Covid Halts Aviation Industry

Introducing Edgar

We spoke to Edgar Harvey Woodhead, a commercial pilot turned NHS vaccinator from West Yorkshire whose aviation career has been halted due to the COVID pandemic. He has since switched uniforms to assist the NHS on the vaccination frontline and also received a courage and compassion badge from them.

Edgar attended Ilkley Grammar School before proceeding to Buckinghamshire New University for a BSc (Hons) in Air Transport Management, along with pilot training. 

Let’s find out more about his incredible story of resilience. 

Tell us about your Aviation Career so far 

As a young kid, I often used to go up to (then) Multiflight – Leeds Bradford Airport to watch the aircraft. I would say my aviation career really started many years ago when I went there for a trial lesson. From there I continued with more trial flights. 

I decided to combine my pilot studies with an aviation-related degree, for many reasons. Firstly, it was my general passion for aviation as a whole, beyond piloting with various aspects such as Economics, Finance, and Operations. 

What Steps Have You Taken to Become a Qualified Pilot? 

To this question, Edgar replied with a list:

  • I completed my PPL at Booker Aviation in High Wycombe. 
  • My ATPLs were completed at L3 Harris Airline Academy. 
  • I then completed my MEP/CPL/MEIR at Diamond Flight Academy, Sweden.
  • Finalized my training on a mentored APS-MCC at VA Cambridge and A-UPRT with partner British Aerobatic Academy.

I have also flown recreationally in the UK (of course!), Spain and Portugal. I have thoroughly enjoyed my professional training and the variety I have experienced. 

I truly believe this has enabled me to gain more experience, knowledge, and understanding, and hopefully, it translates to how I operate on a flight deck.

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What has been a Highlight of your Aviation Career? 

There have been many special moments in my aviation career. I have been lucky to have already flown in multiple countries, so I would say cruising from Sweden to Germany in a DA42 through busy Bremen Radar airspace or flying into Ciudad Real, Spain (storage airport) during COVID and being treated like a VIP!

It was quite a surreal experience to park my C150 next to a Virgin Atlantic A330 and then to be given a tour of the deserted terminal and apron/taxiways of all the parked aircraft. The first solo is always a big moment, especially for me as I had inbound Heathrow traffic holding in the Bovingdon stack just a few thousand feet above me in their own ‘circuit’.

Also, simply finishing training and obtaining the fATPL after the APS-MCC is really a culmination of all skills learned before and thus a memorable moment, especially given this completion was during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What are the Challenges you Faced due to Covid-19? 

The main challenge would be that COVID has temporarily stopped my expected career path in its journey. At the beginning of 2020, I vividly remember picking up a pilot friend from Heathrow Airport, to head back to university to complete our degree.

We discussed our job prospects as we expected to finish our training that year and be well into our job opportunities towards the tail end of 2020.

However, there were delays due to lockdowns and various confinements. And, the delays also stemmed from trying to make decisions on how best to proceed with training. 

Should I take a different route – consider dropping commercials for now and follow an FI route for some time? There were lots of questions and big decisions to be made. This led to the actuality that by the end of 2020 I was only just finishing my training, with all those job prospects from the start of the year disappearing, in the immediacy at least.

I can’t say I have ever given up sight of my end dream though.

And, I have recently come to realize that at the end of the day, I am still young. I have my life ahead of me, and my time will soon come and this will pay off, even if it is a year later than expected.

What Effect has Changing Uniforms had on you? 

It has opened my eyes to a completely different career or line of work that I never thought I would be involved in. However, I think this is important as it allows new perspectives and outlooks, and also teaches new skills.

I think I have greatly enhanced my communication, teamwork, and customer service skills, really being able to fine-tune these in a sympathetic way, which I believe will serve me well with colleagues in the cockpit, but also with passengers.

It has also made me want my pilot uniform back even more! Additionally, it has made me understand that there are similarities between aviation and healthcare.

I was already aware that healthcare now seeks to take experiences from aviation, particularly relating to SOPs, human factors, and crew cooperation, and develop their practices, so it’s great to have my eyes opened to this first-hand.

Why did you decide to join the NHS as a vaccinator? 

After obtaining my frozen ATPL and with the prospect of jobs looking decidedly bleak, I decided that I needed to do something productive in the meantime. I enjoy going out and meeting people, and to be honest, that was restricted in the lockdown. However, the vaccinator job is certainly one way of fulfilling this!

I also felt compelled that by vaccinating the population, I am not only carrying out an altruistic task but also contributing to the process of returning to normal life.

Therefore, my motivations behind my decision have been a return to travel, an increase in demand for travel, and the growth of aviation, with job roles opening up again.

Along with this, I am, of course, keeping my aviation knowledge up to date, and preparing myself personally for the potential airline jobs, whether from technical standpoints or personal characteristics, so it really is about trying to balance both simultaneously.

Your Hopes for the Future of Aviation and Your Career

My hopes for the future of aviation are that we will see a stronger return towards normality this summer, despite restrictions and rules remaining in place.

I say this because the relaxation of traveling rules within the EU for example, and the UK traffic light system will be able to kickstart and release some of that pent-up demand. Hopefully, this will be the first step in returning to normality.

From my career perspective, I hope this will enable airlines to open up recruitment channels. I am constantly on the lookout for any pilot jobs – I would like any job that gets me in the air right now!

Advice for others for transferring skills to another profession

I think you have to take a measured approach. Different professions have different ways of doing things and their unique modus operandi. So, sometimes it is best to take stock of this and apply the skills learned from your previous profession.

Many people I know are in a similar position to me, with some deciding to delay the completion of their training, some thinking of temporarily pursuing non-aviation careers, and some continuing with education such as master’s degrees.

In the aviation community, we really do rally around and stick with one another. We support and help others regardless of their situation!
 

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